Persistence Pays: Redeeming Miles for Premium Seats


I will soon be on my way to Europe and South Africa.  I’m flying in business class.  I used 110,000 USAir Dividend Miles (no longer available, since USAir is now merged with American).  In addition to using the miles, I paid a total of $127 in taxes and fees. I’ll fill in details of why I’m going, and how I got the points in posts over the next few days.  (hint: credit cards)

Every great trip requires a balance of at least two things:  1) calculating and accruing the points or miles needed; and 2) planning for the best redemption.   Many people are pretty good at building up point balances in various loyalty programs, but they don’t do as well on the redemption side of the equation.

My tip for today about redeeming miles or points for award reservations is:  you need to be persistent if you are going to get the most value for your miles.   If you go to the airline website, you may or may not find all the award availability that’s out there.  You need to become familiar with the various award possibilities that are out there, and chose from the available products that best suit your needs.

Even after they are made, you need to be vigilant in monitoring your award reservations.  Flight schedules change.  Other stuff happens.

In my case, I made my initial reservation in January 2015.  The routing from Europe to South Africa was:  Barcelona to Madrid/ Madrid to Doha/ Doha to Johannesburg.   I would have preferred a more direct Barcelona to Doha routing, but it wasn’t available in business class.  Hence, the extra leg from Barcelona to Madrid.

I am not an elite member of any airline loyalty program (it’s hard to get elite status when you don’t actually pay for many tickets).   So, in most cases, if I wanted to make a change to the reservation after it was ticketed, I would have had to pay a change fee of about $150.  I hate paying fees.

But, as I said, flight changes happen.  And when they do, there is often an opportunity to change your reservation without a fee.   In May, I received a message that there was a change to my flight from DOH to JNB.  It was departing 30 minutes earlier than originally scheduled.   Uh-oh – that left 15 minutes to connect between flights.  That’s not gonna work.   An annoyance? yes.  But also an opportunity.  I was able to find availability on the more direct Barcelona to Doha flight, and was able to switch to that flight for no charge.

Sadly, no really great redemption is without it’s complications (and this is an extraordinary redemption).    When I checked the confirmation of the change, I found that the USAir agent had booked me into economy class on the BCN-DOH leg.  Achhh!  I’m too old and too fat to fly in economy for 7 hours.  I called back, but then there was no business class award availability from either BCN or MAD.  In fact there was no availability in any class for more than a month around the time I needed to fly.

I was depressed.  (Yes, first world problem.)  I called and begged USAir to help.  I e-mailed Qatar.  Nothing to be done:  Qatar was not releasing anything on the date needed.   There didn’t seem to be any award of any kind on Qatar airlines from anywhere in Europe to Doha.

And it stayed that way for almost three months.   Every few days, I checked availability (BTW, you can check availability for this and many other One World flights by checking on the British Airways web site).  Every few days, the computer screen filled with the sad empty nothingness of Qatar award availability.

Until today.  Suddenly, award availability was wide open.  4 business class seats on virtually every flight.  One relatively quick call to USAir (well, American as they call themselves now), and I was moved up to the front of the plane.

Persistence.  It pays.